HC Deb 03 May 1850 vol 110 cc1138-49

Order for consideration of Bill, as amended, read.

MR. CLEMENTS moved, that the Bill be recommitted for the purpose of introducing an Amendment for providing payment of the clerks of the peace and clerks of unions, for their services in connexion with the making out of the lists of voters. He thought the clerks of the peace were as much entitled to be paid as the town clerks.


remarked, that the clerks of the peace were already sufficiently remunerated.


had no personal feeling in the matter, but it appearing to be the impression of the Irish Members generally, that the clerks of the peace were sufficiently paid, he must decline to accede to the proposition.


thought it was desirable to recommit the Bill, as he and other hon. Gentlemen had Amendments to propose which it would be better to discuss in Committee than on the consideration of the report.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

MR. M. POWER moved a clause to the effect— That in all cases of agreement between the landlord and occupier, or (in cases of joint occupancy) the occupiers of lands, tenements, or hereditaments, within any county in Ireland, by virtue of which agreement the landlord is or shall be rated for poor-rates at the annual value of 8l. and upwards, the occupier, or (in case of joint occupancy) the occupiers of such premises, shall have all the rights of registry and voting as if he or they had been rated; and, should the landlord, under such circumstances, refuse or neglect to pay the said rates, the payment thereof by the occupier, or (in the case of joint occupancy) by the occupiers, shall entitle him or them to a right of registry and voting, and also to a right to deduct from the rent the full amount of such rates.


said, there could be no reason that a tenant, occupying under such circumstances, should be deprived of the right of voting, not only as to the county franchise, but also on that of the borough: but he thought the clause as it stood would not fairly carry out the object of the hon. Member, and therefore he should have to propose certain verbal amendments.


considered the clause would give rise to much inconvenience and litigation, and that it would encourage fictitious votes.


opposed the clause on the ground that if it were passed it would be impossible to know who the voter was. If the landlord did not pay it would be only necessary for the tenant to come forward and claim to vote, and the requirements of the Act as to paying rates would not be followed.


thought the question was whether the party was in occupation of property to the required value; in that case the occupier would appear on the rate books, and who paid the rates was a matter of no importance.


observed, that the objection was that the party would not appear on the rate books. But he thought fraud might be prevented by the production of the agreement between the landlord and the tenant, by which the landlord undertook to pay the rates; therefore, the clause was not really open to the objections which had been urged against it.


did not consider the clause necessary, because the tenant might, under his agreement, pay the rate to entitle him to the vote, and then deduct it from the rent.


looked on the clause as a power placed in the hands of the landlord to make faggot votes.


thought that the proper form should be for the tenant to be allowed the right of claiming to be rated, and on doing so, and paying the rate, that he should then be entitled to vote.


said, that was precisely the effect of the Amendment which he proposed.


said, a more obnoxious clause than this had never been heard of. If it were moved bonâ fide, it would affect so few votes that it was not worth the trouble of introducing it; but he could easily see that it would open the door to all sorts of fraud.


defended the principle of the clause, as putting it out of the power of any individual to disfranchise a voter. At the same time, he should suggest to the hon. proposer that the clause, with the amendments of his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General for Ireland, should be withdrawn for the present, and printed, and that it might be discussed on the third reading.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause withdrawn.


said: Sir, notwithstanding the determination of the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government to oppose the introduction of the clause I have given notice of—notwithstanding he has come to this decision before even he had heard a word of argument either myself or hon. Members may bring forward in support of it; and although I have the highest possible respect for the exalted situation the noble Lord holds in Her Majesty's Councils—still I have a duty to my constituents as a Member of this House, which even this threat of the noble Lord will not prevent my endeavouring to perform. Sir, upon the passing of the Reform Act in 1832, there was naturally adversity of opinion upon that law; and I should not have ventured to bring forward my proposition, were I not supported in my view of the case by many high legal authorities, and amongst others by the often declared opinion of one of the most talented, upright, and consistent Judges that ever adorned the judicial bench, that the disfranchisement of those called "non-resident freemen" was contrary to law, and the spirit of the Act. Now, Sir, were these persons disfranchised by a decision of this House, I should not have hazarded any appeal; but such is not the fact—they were disfranchised by the decision of an Election Committee of this House; and I feel convinced every hon. Member who has had experience here will agree with me, that Election Committees, as formerly constituted, were the most unjust and partial tribunals before which any man could appear. They were restrained by no law—they were guided by no precedent—their decision was final and arbitrary—there was no appeal—and it was by the decision of such a tribunal that so many were disfranchised, and lost a privilege they so much prized, and so long enjoyed. Perhaps some hon. Gentlemen may imagine my remarks are unjustly severe; but I would ask, was it not a notorious fact, that the moment an Election Committee was struck, its decision was publicly talked of, and anticipated? Very many cases could I quote in proof of this; but I shall only state my own case— Quæqua miserrima vidi, Et quorum pars magna fui. When I formerly had the honour of being a Member of this House, my return was petitioned against; on the day my Com- mittee was balloted for, my evil star was in the ascendant, and my impartial judges were ten Radical Reformers, and one Conservative. "Ab initio" my fate was sealed, and I have ever since regretted I did not take the advice of an hon. Friend, and resign at once, and I should thus have saved an expensive and annoying contest of fifteen days, for, after all, the expected result came forth. I trust, then, I am not asking too much in asking for the reversal of what I conceive was an illegal decision of this Election Committee, and restoration of, not altogether, what these persons have been deprived of, but the right of voting, when duly registered, provided they are resident in the county in which such city or borough is situated. I would also pray to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for Ireland to the expediency of having the word "July" substituted for "June" in the 10th clause, line 22nd, 5th page of the Bill. This change would give more time for registration, as this is about the period of holding sessions in Ireland; the next sessions for the city of Cork, for instance, are fixed for the 1st of June, and as there are a considerable number of persons of all political feelings, who were prevented at the last, anxious to register at this sessions; and as I learn the assistant barrister is desirous to amend some of his decisions, and as this alteration would, by increasing the numbers of the registered, carry out the intentions of this new Reform Bill, or, more properly speaking, this new Democratic Bill, I trust there may be no objection to this change; but should there be, it will answer the same end, as regards Cork, to have the sessions held on the 27th of May, which perhaps the right hon. Secretary may direct. I hope, then. Her Majesty's Government will, as the noble Lord the First Minister of the Crown is absent, consider what I have advanced, and withdraw their opposition from my clause, and thus prevent my taking the opinion of the House upon it; and I trust the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for Ireland will perform one of the two requests I have made of him. I beg, therefore, to move the clause of which I have given notice:— And be it Enacted, That the class of Voters usually called "Non-resident freemen," be permitted to vote at the Election of Members of Parliament for cities and boroughs, if duly registered, and resident within the county.


said, freemen belonged to the county of a town for the most part, and the adoption of the clause would give rise to very great inequality. He did not think it was worth the hon. and gallant Gentleman's while to divide on a proposition which was to reverse the law settled twenty years ago.


was very sorry to refuse the hon. and gallant Member, but the question had been settled by the Reform Bill many years ago.


hoped the hon. Member would not divide the House on the question.


withdrew the clause.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause withdrawn.


, in the absence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who had given notice on the subject, moved the omission in Clause 1, line 11, of all the words which provided that "the voter should, on or before the 1st of July, have paid all poor-rates in respect of his lands, tenements, or hereditaments, which should have become payable from him in respect of such premises previously to the 1st day of January then next preceding." He believed that the retention of these words would restrict the franchise, and that, in accordance with the title of the Bill, and the determination of the Legislature, the possession of property of a certain amount ought to be—whether rightly or wrongly was not now the question—a test of the fitness of the party for the possession of the franchise.

Amendment proposed, page 2, line 14, to leave out from the word "year" to the word "And," in line 19.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."


opposed the Motion, because one of the main features of the Bill was, that it insisted on the payment of rates prior to voting.

The House divided: Ayes 106; Noes 26: Majority 80.

MR. FITZPATRICK moved, as an Amendment, that a portion of Clause 2 be omitted. It gave votes in right of joint occupancy in counties, and to that he objected.

Amendment proposed, page 2, line 18, to leave out from the words "next preceding" to the word "And" in line 31.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided; Ayes 78; Noes 52: Majority 26.


then rose to move an Amendment to the 6th Clause, with a view to reduce the qualifications of voters in boroughs from 8l. to 5l. He urged that change upon the favourable consideration of the House, for this, among other reasons, that otherwise the effect of the measure would be to increase the county constituency, and to diminish that of the boroughs.

Amendment proposed, page 3, line 41, to leave out the word "eight," in order to insert the word "five."

Question put, "That the word 'eight' stand part of the Bill."


agreed that 8l. was too high a qualification, but he was not prepared to admit that it should be fixed at 5l.


said, that if the hon. and learned Member for Youghal's Motion proved unsuccessful with the House, he should propose a 6l. qualification in Irish boroughs.


was opposed to the proposition of the hon. and learned Member for Youghal. When a similar Amendment was moved by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, he entered into calculations and fully stated the reasons against such an alteration of the Bill. He should now, therefore, not detain the House by repeating them, but content himself with recommending that the proposed change be not agreed to.


observed, that every Irish Member in favour of extending the franchise, was decidedly of opinion that an 8l. franchise was too high. But, as it was now encumbered with a rating for the poor, if the hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment was adopted, it would render necessary considerable alteration in other parts of the Bill. He was in favour of the Amendment as an electoral question; but as the noble Lord at the head of the Government had fully admitted that the state of the Irish boroughs would not be satisfactory, even after the passing of this Bill, he should recommend the hon. and learned Gentleman not to go to a division at present, but that he and all those who were in favour of a 5l. qualification should take the opportunity, when the Irish boroughs came to be re-arranged, of going into the whole question, and then urging their views upon the Government. He moreover did not think it wise to introduce further matter of dispute into the consideration of the measure.


begged to inform the hon. Member that there would be no difficulty as to the machinery. The noble Lord, though he talked of grouping some of the boroughs, did not, with respect to the franchise, speak of the Bill as a temporary, but as a final measure. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL dissented.] Then, he was to understand that the Bill could not be considered final. If the Bill were not to be final, the less time they consumed in its discussion the better.


concurred in the view taken of this question by the hon. Member for Manchester. He believed that the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Youghal would be attended with more harm than good. Would any one tell him that if they introduced the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman into the Bill there would be a chance of its passing this Session in another place? He believed it would not. As he was satisfied the Government had gone as far as they could do with safety to the measure, he was ready, on the present occasion, to give them his cordial support.


said, what had occurred that night convinced him he was right in having always doubted that the Irish Reform Bill was an honest measure. If he had another reason for opposing the Bill—which was but another kind of Reform Bill—it would be from the variation of the opinions expressed by the hon. Member for Manchester now from the opinions he had given utterance to at a meeting a short time ago at Crosby Hall. He would read to the House an extract from the hon. Member's speech on that occasion:— The Irish Franchise Bill was a proof of the great change which had taken place, not only throughout the country, but in Parliament, proposing, as it did, alterations in the qualification required for voting which ten years ago would not have been tolerated. About ten years since, a Bill not relating to the property qualification at all, but intended to improve the system of registration, was opposed as if the welfare of the empire depended upon its rejection; but the opposition to the present Bill was so languid that an hon. Member, who thought that 8l. was too low a qualification, and wished to raise it, received so little support that he was obliged to withdraw his Motion without going to a division. The only thing complained of, in fact, was, that they had not reduced the franchise in the boroughs to any considerable extent; which, he believed, arose from a mistake, and that the Government were now very sorry for it. Now that Bill, passing by large majorities, and only a few Members attempting to introduce a clause which should in anyway embarrass its operation, showed a change which it was most satisfactory to see, and which derived the more importance from the fact, that all public men knew that the present Bill was a mere experiment, a getting in of the small end of the wedge, and that it would be certainly followed in the next or the succeeding Session by a proposition for a change in the representation of Great Britain.


had not the good fortune to hear that part of the hon. Member for Manchester's speech on which the noble Lord had laid so much stress, in consequence of the noble Lord having turned his back when reading it. [Viscount BERNARD: I will read it again.] He thought it quite unnecessary, for the real question before the House was, whether the franchise should be 5l. or 8l. He rose, however, for the purpose of saying that he had intimated dissent when the hon. Member for North Northamptonshire alluded to the noble Lord at the head of the Government as having spoken of the Bill as a final measure—not from any notion that there was to be no finality in the matter, but because he thought the noble Lord had never used those words, and especially when he remembered the use which for many years had been made of that very word "finality." With regard to the question before the House, it had been fully discussed before a Committee, and he thought the House would be of opinion that after what had passed before that Committee—whore unquestionably the general opinion was in favour of an 8l. franchise—it would not be desirable now to come to a decision fixing the franchise at 5l.


said, the hon. and learned Member for Youghal had told them that he proposed this Amendment because it was his wish to extend the franchise; and therefore he thought no hon. Member opposite was entitled to attribute to him any other motive. For himself, he must say he did not wish to see a great extension of the franchise. He desired to see monarchical institutions preserved in this country, but he did not wish to see a free democratic social republic established. He was for a full and fair representation of the people, but at the same time he thought what was called a full and fair representation of the people might be carried too far; and, careless of the popularity or unpopularity which he might incur, he felt himself compelled to say that the present was too extended a measure. He saw the hon. Member for Oldham in his place, and he would read a few words which that hon. Gentleman had addressed to the National Reform Conference, as it was very important at this time, when such great changes were taking place abroad, to know what were the sentiments entertained by gentlemen of the weight and station of the hon. Member. He found that the hon. Member said— He considered the extension of the suffrage, vote by ballot, the payment of Members, and the redistribution in the proportions of electoral districts, as all of them mere machinery, and not ends, which any rational man would think worth spending his time upon. In the accomplishment of these objects they should still keep in view their great ultimate object, which he would not hesitate to call a 'social revolution.' By "social revolution," he (Lord Castlereagh) supposed the hon. Gentleman meant a socialist revolution. ["No, no!"] He certainly found that the hon. Member afterwards said he wished to see our institutions preserved. But then M. Proudhon had taken nearly the same course as the hon. Member for Oldham had done. ["No, no!"] He did not wish to say anything disrespectful of the hon. Gentleman; but he reminded him of the month of March coming in like a lion, and going out like a lamb. The hon. Gentleman, if he might venture to say so, had come in like a lamb, and would go out like a lion. Let them by all means get a full representation of the people, but let them be careful not to be led away by such doctrines as those laid down by the hon. Gentleman.


did not know where the noble Lord had found the report of his speech to which he had referred; but he thought that of the few sentences which he had quoted, or, at least, referred to, there was one that contained quite enough to show him what he meant by the term "social revolution." He (Mr. Fox) had clearly and fully explained that it was not a revolution which had anything to do with bloodshead, plunder, or the destruction of venerated and useful institutions, the redistribution of property, or any such absurdities; but that by a social revolution he meant a change which should put talent, integrity, and legitimate influence in the place of corruption and of intimidation in the representation of the people in that House. The remarks which followed those that had been read had been brought into notice in some publications, so that he should have thought the one part of what he said on that occasion would have been as well known as the other. The word social had been laid hold of, and, as far as it could be done, it was laid hold of to give it the form which had just now been affixed to it. He had no hesitation, however, in repeating, that he did desire to see such a social revolution as he then described—a revolution which should put talent and honesty and ability in their proper place, and give them their proper influence. And if it was thought there was anything incautious in using either the word "revolution" or the word "social" in such a connexion, he would just say, that these remarks were not addressed to a large and indiscriminate meeting, but to a small number of delegates in a comparatively private place, met to consult on such political arrangements as it might be thought right to adopt for promoting the object in pursuit of which they were engaged. He saw nothing in this for which he needed to make any excuse or apology. The sentiments and the language he was ready to repeat there; and, in consistency with the principles he had advocated, he should, as one desirous to see the suffrage, both in this and the sister country, extended to the very greatest degree that it could be, consistent with order or utility, support the Amendment now before the House.


said, the hon. Member for Oldham required no one to make any explanation in his behalf; but as he had listened with great pleasure to the speech which the hon. Member had delivered before the National Reform Association, he begged to say that that speech was received with the greatest satisfaction by the meeting—not because they were revolutionists, for they desired to carry no object by physical force—but because they concurred in the views so well expressed by the hon. Gentleman. The noble Lord the Member for the county of Down stated, that he was in favour of monarchical institutions, but that he was not for a full representation of the people. [Viscount CASTLEREAGH dissented.] Well, then, the noble Lord said he was not for a social republic; but he would tell him that the refusal of just concessions to the people was what would lead them to demand a social and democratic revolution. It was only by timely concessions that revolution could be arrested; and for that reason he would support the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Youghal.


said, that he was sorry to hear the noble Lord revive a cry which had done more mischief in this empire, and especially in Ireland, than almost any other. He meant the cry of exclusive loyalty. That pernicious assertion had been the bane of Ireland. At one time the only loyalists were said to be one particular party in the country; at another, the professors of a particular religion; but now the only loyal people, it would appear, were those who would support an 8l. franchise. He would give his support to the Amendment.

The House divided:—Ayes 80; Noes 43: Majority 37.


appealed to the indulgence of the House to permit him to read the conclusion of the speech the commencement of which had been just adverted to by the noble Viscount the Member for the county of Down. In the few remarks he (Mr. Fox) had made, he did not consult the printed report of his speech which the noble Viscount had quoted, and which the courtesy of the noble Viscount had placed within his reach. The noble Viscount, however, had not quoted his observations with that completeness which was essential to correctness, and he (Mr. Fox) begged to be permitted to read the entire passage. He had said— In the accomplishment of these objects they should still keep in view their great ultimate object, which he would not hesitate to call a social revolution—a revolution, however, which would leave intact, in all their sacredness, the principles of the constitution, the maintenance of order, and the greatest possible amount of liberty, but a revolution which should raise into operation the intellectual and moral aristocracy of the country, with ability to govern, and integrity to govern well.


had no intention of misquoting the hon. Member, and had explained the purport of the conclusion of the sentence. He had, however, thought that the expression "social revolution," in the hon. Member's speech, was not sufficiently qualified by the after portion of his speech, because he could not imagine how a social revolution could be effected consistently with the maintenance of order in this country.


Sir, I beg to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for Ireland, that he has not replied to my request regarding the substitution of the word "August" for May, in the 10th clause, 15th line of the Act. As I have before stated my reasons for this request, I need not trouble the House at any length; but I really cannot see how Her Majesty's Government can, with any shadow of consistency, refuse this alteration, when it tends to increase the franchise so much wished for by this new reform, or, much more properly speaking, democratic Bill for Ireland. I therefore beg to move that August he substituted for May in the Bill.

Amendment proposed, page 5, line 17, to leave out the word "May," in order to insert the word "August," instead thereof.

Question put, "That the word 'May' stand part of the Bill."


supported the Amendment. The clause, as it now stood, would be an ex post facto disqualification of persons who would be placed upon the register, and who, but for the Act, would have the right to vote until August next.


could not consent to allow the old class of voters to remain upon the register during the last quarter of the registration year, when these voters were declared by the Act incompetent to vote.


had thought the object of the Bill was an extension of the suffrage; but it appeared that the Government only meant to extend the franchise in a democratic sense.


saw no reason for agreeing to the change proposed by the hon. and gallant Member opposite.

The House divided:—Ayes 92; Noes 21: Majority 71.


had an Amendment to propose, to the effect that the revision of electoral lists in Dublin should take place a month after the revision through the country generally, so as to allow the barristers of Dublin to attend conveniently to legal duties connected with the registration in the country.


did not apprehend that any inconvenience would be found to arise from fixing the period of revision for the capital and the country at the same time. In England the London and country registration was effected at one and the same time, and the system worked perfectly well.

Amendment negatived.

Bill to be read 3° on Friday next.